Home Energy Challenge helps local residents combat climate change

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- There’s no doubt that climate change is frightening with crazy storms, natural disasters, even the extinction of species, potentially our own.

Dozens of Charlottesville-area residents are now taking action through a local organization’s Home Energy Challenge.

"We come together, we show them this challenge platform that offers a bunch of actions that they can take to reduce their home's footprint, their carbon footprint," said Claire Habel, residential program manager for Charlottesville Climate Collaborative, also known as C3.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon a person or household emits based on their fossil fuel consumption. The energy you use to heat and light at home, the gas you burn in your car, and the production of food and other goods you buy and throw away all contribute to your carbon footprint.

Habel leads C3’s aptly named "power parties," in which a group of friends gets together to start the home energy challenge.

CBS19 attended a potluck power party for a group from the roller derby team, the Charlottesville Derby Dames. As anyone who has seen a bout knows, these women are powerful on roller skates, and Derby Dame Mary Shank said they're ready to tackle their power consumption, too.

"I think it's really important for us to be cognizant of what's going on in our community, be supportive, trying to do things to make the world a better place,” Shank said.

At the power party, Habel led the group through a trivia game, showed them the steps they need to take to reduce their carbon footprints, and explained how to use C3’s online program to keep track of progress.

"[It] keeps track of how much carbon you're saving, keeps track of how much money you're saving and how much carbon we save overall as a community," Habel said.

At the end of the Home Energy Challenge, there will be another party to celebrate participants’ success, and if previous participants achievements are repeated, that success will be significant.

The first Home Energy Challenge season began last year and had 120 Charlottesville-area households. Together, they saved more than 100 tons of carbon by early February. According to figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, that's equivalent to the total energy use of 12 homes for a year.

Albemarle County resident Karl Quist participated in the first challenge because of his concern about climate change.

"It was appealing to me to have a gathering where we could learn about the most impactful actions, ask questions, and come out of there with an action plan," Quist said.

He made some simple changes at home, he said, "replacing all the incandescent light bulbs in my house with LEDs."

He also made one big change, purchasing an electric car.

"A big part of our carbon footprint is driving and burning fuel," Quist said.

But Quist learned you don't have to spend a lot of money up front to make an impact on energy use. Taking easy actions like adjusting your home thermostat can make a big difference.

"So instead of keeping it at 70 in the winter, maybe turn it down to 68 [or] 67, throw on a sweater and it's really hardly noticeable," he said.

Quist said he's saved money by doing the challenge, but more than that, it feels good to be taking action for the environment as part of a group.

"We can't solve the problem individually, but we can join together and take a lot of actions individually and turn it into a pretty large collective action," he said.

The second season of the Home Energy Challenge is open for registration for Charlottesville-area residents until early March. For more information on how you can participate, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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